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Pied Wagtail


Member of Motacillidae (Pipit and Wagtail) family

Pied Wagtail can be found throughout the UK, except for north-west Scotland. They are very closely related to the White Wagtail (M. a. alba) which generally replace them on mainland Europe.

A striking, long-tailed and rather sprightly black and white bird, the Pied Wagtail is an occasional garden visitor. They usually stand and frantically wag their tail up and will dash about in search of food.

The differences in the plumage of Pied wagtails is quite complicated. In the breeding season the males are very black and white, with the females greyer. Young birds can look brownish grey even with a hint of yellow

What They Eat & What You Can Offer Them

Pied Wagtails feed predominantly on insects that it finds while searching lawns, fields and verges. The insects are typically flies and caterpillars.

In areas where Pied Wagtails are common, you can often hear them calling as they fly over favourite hunting grounds to check if there is already a Pied Wagtail feeding there. They have a distinctive undulating flight.

They adapted to forage on paved areas such as car parks. They enjoy feeding on edges of streams and small fish fry have been recorded in the diet. If you have a lawn with a path and ground feeder then you are more likely to attract Pied Wagtails.

 Where They Live & How You Can Help Them

Pied Wagtails build their nest in holes in walls, buildings, or old nests of larger birds. Grass and mosses are used to construct the small cup-shaped nest. They will use open-fronted nest boxes similar to those used by robins. In the winter they will roost in large flocks of several thousand, often in urban areas.

The 4-6 eggs are laid in 1-2 clutches and take about 13 days to incubate.

And Finally……..

Just why does a Pied Wagtail wag its tail? The near-constant tail wagging is a trait that has given the species, and the family, its common name. It has been suggested that it may flush prey, or signal submissiveness to other wagtails or even it is a signal of vigilance to potential predators.



  • Brian.siggery
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Almost every bowling green I have visited has just one wagtail darting about.

  • Rohona
    Posted August 4, 2015 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    My husband and his work colleague saw several Pied Wagtails, all were lying on their right-hand side. The birds got up wandered a bit then flew away. Can you tell me why they lie on their right side?

  • Patsy
    Posted May 21, 2016 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    i have baby pied wagtails in my bathroom wall. I hear them from 6 am to approx 8 pm. They are a beautiful bird and can’t wait to see the babies fly.

  • Kindall Goble
    Posted August 26, 2016 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Wagtails (pied) are the favorite birds in our garden. They exhibit wonderfully idiocentric behaviour. We enjoyed their shenanigans from May to the middle of July. For most of that time they were our alarm clock, pecking gently on our bedroom and bathroom windows every morning. Where can they have gone and how do we encourage them to stay?

    We have a large lawn surrounded on three sides by fields on the other side of a long privet hedge, a stone wall with a paved lane on the far side of said.

  • jill merlet
    Posted June 27, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Do you know if pied wagtails lay several broods in the same nest or do they rebuild each time ? I ask because while weeding a flower box on my 10th floor terrace I pulled out a nest by mistake – I rather thought they had nested in there because there had been a lot of coming and going, however for the preceding couple of days they had disappeared. I wonder whether I should put the nest back into the flower box ?

  • Richard
    Posted November 12, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Wag pairs seem to breed for a couple of years then they are off somewhere. Our Wag family tend to take one female from each brood and teach it where it is and then “hand over” the garden. If the chosen ones should die on migration, end of line….. This behaviour has been going on for 15 years where we are…. It is possible that there aren’t many Wags around you so they don’t pick up on the vacant food source.
    Wags can be attracted by food and even by getting to know them…. Mealworms are always a favourite and grated cheese they will eat till they burst….
    Breeding March to August then away in Aug…. Back in oct for most… They may just see your garden as a larder and not nest there… Ours Wags nest 200 metres away in a barn…
    They love a quiet garden, hate sparrows and will panic if you have birds of prey about. Place food in a position where they can see all around….
    Find a Wag and give it some tasty snacks and if it is close to your garden, leave a trail…. It sounds a bit crazy I know, but our Wags have a good brain and they all know a good thing when they see it…. It could take three or four years to get a family tree started… The consequence will be a nightmare of 6 a.m. feeding requests for the babies and near continual tweets for food in the winter… Oh, we can’t even take summer holidays now! Ours came back today…..

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